She would become known as Connecticut’s official state heroine. Her efforts would be so significant that her work and school, and the court cases brought against her would be cited in historic cases from Dred v. Scott to Brown v. Board of Education.  Her name was Prudence Crandall.

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Prudence Crandall – Prudence Crandall Museum Collections, Department of Economic and Community Development, State of Connecticut

Prudence Crandall was born 3 September 1803 to Pardon and Esther Crandall, Quakers from Hopkinton, Rhode Island. Pardon Crandall and Esther Carpenter had three other children together; Hezekiah, Reuben, and Almira.

When Crandall was 10 years old, in 1813, the family would move to a farm in Canterbury, CT. Soon Crandall would be sent to study abroad at The New England Yearly Meeting Boarding School, a Quaker boarding school founded by abolitionist Moses Brown in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1904 the school would be renamed Moses Brown School, and is still in operation today. While at the school Crandall would study subjects such as Latin and science, something not typically studied by women of the time. Quakers believed in educational opportunities for both men and women equally.

By 1830 Crandall was 27 years old and teaching in Plainfield, CT. In 1831 she was still a single woman, rare for the time and her age, and with nothing to tie her to Plainfield, and at the encouragement of many residents of Canterbury, CT she purchased a Georgian-style house on the Canterbury town green in order to open a boarding school for girls.

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Building of Prudence Crandall’s school for African American Girls.

In short order her school would become very successful, with students coming from as far away as Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia. Then in the fall of 1832 Crandall would admit 20 year old Sarah Harris to the school. Harris was a young African American woman who wanted to be a teacher. She was from a freed family of farmers and had applied for a place at the school just a few weeks before her admission.

The reaction to Crandall’s admittance of a “colored” person to the school was swift and negative. Crandall was educating daughters of some very prominent New England families at the time, and they vowed to remove their children from her school if she did not expel Harris. No only did Crandall refuse to expel Harris she also vowed that by the following year she would only be admitting African American girls to the school.

The 1830’s in Connecticut saw increasing fears of racial equality, and the wide spread belief that African Americans were intellectually inferior to whites was threatened by Harris’ admittance to the school.

The founder of the Boston-based abolitionist newspaper The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, supported Crandall’s school and efforts after meeting her in 1832 while on business with the New England Anti-Slavery Society.  Garrison would run an advertisement in  The Liberator for her school, as well as providing her with the names of African American families who might be interested in sending their daughters to her school. Crandall would travel to New York and Providence to recruit students as well as announcing her plans for the school in The Liberator. This would make her a national figure and the controversy with her school would increase.

 

Just a year after Crandall began admitting African American girls to her school, on 24 May 1833, the General Assembly enacted the “Black Law,” making it illegal for out-of-state African American students to attend a Connecticut school without local permission. Crandall refused to stop operating her school, and refused to stop taking in students or send current students, who were from out of state, home.

On 23 August 1833 Crandall was arrested, spent the night in jail, and would stand before three court trials. Crandall’s attorneys would argue that the “Black Law” was unconstitutional because African Americans were citizens and guaranteed equal rights, which included access to education, as stated by the Constitution. Crandall’s first trial would end with a deadlocked jury. The jury for the second trial would find her guilty when a judge declared the “Black Law” constitutional, as African Americans were not citizens and were not guaranteed rights under the Constitution.  At her third trail, Crandall would see the charges dismissed for “lack of information.”

Crandall would finally close her school after a mob attacked the building on 9 September 1834. They would break most of the windows in the school and smash several pieces of furniture. Crandall feared for the safety of her students, and feeling she had no other choice she closed the school.

That same year she would meet and marry a Baptist minister named  Calvin Philleo. By 1840 the couple, along with Philleo’s children from a first marriage, left for Illinois. After her husbands death in 1874, Crandall would head to Kansas, and live the remainder of her years with one of her brothers.

Prudence Crandall would die 28 January 1890, in Elk Falls, Kansas.

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Sarah Harris, one of Crandall’s students, would go on to marry George Fayerweather Jr., and together they would have 5 children. Both Harris and her husband supported abolitionism and racial equality, and Harris would join the Kingston Anti-Slavery Society. She also attended antislavery meetings held by the American Anti-Slavery Society in various cities across the northern United States. Harris also maintained a correspondence with her former teacher Prudence Crandall, until Harris died in 1878.

A partial list of students from the school:

  1. Sarah Harris
  2. Mary Harris
  3. Harriet Rosetta Lanson
  4. Eliza Galsko
  5. Elizabeth N. Smith
  6. Ann Eliza Hammond
  7. Sarah Lloyd Hammond
  8. Julia Williams
  9. Elizabeth Douglass Bustill
  10. Amy Fenner
  11. Henrietta Bolt
  12. M. E. Carter
  13. Jerusha Congdon
  14. Theodosia Degrass
  15. Polly Freeman
  16. Catherine Ann Weldon
  17. Ann Elizabeth Wiles
  18. Ann Peterson
  19. G. C. Marshal
  20. Elizabeth Henly
  21. J. K. Johnson
  22. Mariah Robinson

The exact number of student at the school is not know, and these names have been collected from carious sources; such as newspaper articles, obituaries, and court records.

Today the school is a museum, dedicated to Prudence Crandall and her work. The home is available to tour, with hours changing for summer and winter seasons. Call ahead for more information: 860-546-7800.

Interior of Prudence Crandall’s School

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Bibliography

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Prudence Crandall AMERICAN EDUCATOR.” Encyclopædia Britannica. February 10, 2000. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Prudence-Crandall.

Ryan, John D. “Prudence Crandall Philleo.” Find a Grave. June 27, 2004. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=9003590.

“Prudence Crandall Facts.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. 2010. http://biography.yourdictionary.com/prudence-crandall.

Michals, Debra, Ph.D. “Prudence Crandall (1803-1890).” Nwhm.org. 2015. https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/prudence-crandall/.

Moraco, Diana. “Prudence Crandall Fights for Equal Access to Education.” Connecticuthistory.org. http://connecticuthistory.org/prudence-crandall-fights-for-equal-access-to-education/.

Jurmain, Suzanne. The Forbidden School House – The True and Dramatic Story of Prudence Crandall and Her Students. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Curtis, Nancy C., Ph.D. Black Heritage Sites – An African American Odyssey and Finders Guide. American Library Association, 1996.

“Students At Prudence Crandall’s School for African American Women.” Ct.gov. http://www.ct.gov/cct/lib/cct/history/African-American_Students0001.pdf.

 

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